UN presses Burma on child soldiers

A senior UN official on Monday urged Burma and Colombia to allow the UN to negotiate directly with rebel groups or guerrillas to secure the demobilisation of child soldiers.

“Colombia and Myanmar [Burma] do not allow us to have discussions with non-state actors on recruiting children for implementing plans of action to release children,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the UN secretary general for children in armed conflict.

Coomaraswamy said such plans of actions had brought about the release of thousands of children in Sudan, Philippines, Nepal, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.

However, those had come about after the world body was given permission to negotiate directly with such non-state groups. Coomaraswamy said that without consent from each government, United Nations officials could not talk to some 50 armed groups worldwide that enrol children.

Some 250,000 children are exploited in conflicts around the world, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). In Burma, however, it is the ruling government that is widely believed to be the leading recruiter of child soldiers, despite the practice being illegal under domestic Burmese law.

A Human Rights Watch report in 2002 claimed that there could be as many as 70,000 child soldiers within the Burmese army. Armed ethnic groups, such as the Karen National Union (KNU), admit the use of the child soldiers but claim it is done on a purely voluntary basis.

A UN report presented to the Security Council earlier this month drew up a list for the first time of armed groups and other organistations that enrol children.

However, authorities in Myanmar, Somalia, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan also used children, according to the UN expert.

The report also listed groups accused of killing or sexually abusing children, including Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Lord’s Resistance Army, which operates in a triangle between Uganda, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo, the Afghan national police and Nepal’s Maoists.  It expressed concern about the plight of children in conflicts in 22 countries.

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